Friday, June 27, 2008

Thesis Time #2

I am sitting in Carson's Lounge, a relatively new cafe in Yarraville, and conveniently 5-minutes walk from my house. I've just re-read the first chapter of Rose Rosengard Subotnik's book Developing Variations, discussing different ways musicologists approach ideology. I read it for the first time yesterday afternoon, under the neon lights of the VCA library, and found my eyes glossing over and my brain complaining of the effort required to understand and take it in.

Part of what I am going to discuss in my thesis is the debate that took place among academics of early music in the 1980s and 1990s about the ideal of "authenticity" - the attempt to perform renaissance and baroque music in a "historically correct" fashion, honouring the supposed intentions of the composer.

It struck me today as I read Subotnik, how similar her description of the "Anglo-American" school of musicological thought (she defines two schools of thought: Continental and Anglo-American) is to the early music movement, especially its manifestation in the 1980s and 1990s. The Anglo-Americans, in Subotnik's definition, are empiricists who view a piece of music as an autonomous artwork. They are concerned with the pursuit of provable truth and try to correct what they perceive as "ideological distortion" by focussing on physical and scientific details, and consciously avoiding anything that could be perceived as ideological or subjective.

The early music movement also held empirical evidence in the highest of esteem (and still does to a large extent). Proof gathered in historical sources of the "correct" way to perform has been the basis of the way we have played early music. Instruments have been painstakingly copied from original drawings, and the search for Bach's own tuning system provided some academic excitement a few years ago.

More and more I am discovering the connections between the manifestation of this empiricism in the early music movement and the wider intellectual and cultural context. At the moment I don't have any startling conclusions to make, but clearly the phenomenon that is the early music movement did not happen in isolation or come from nowhere.


Anonymous said...

Hey Stars,

What a rad post! You're definitely sounding like a budding academic. If this is any indication, you're going to ace your thesis.

Anastasia said...

Thanks Brent! I'm glad you have confidence in me!

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